Can I use an 'indoor' TV outside?

CNET reader Jason wants to know if he has to get a TV specifically rated to work outside, or if any TV will do. Geoff Morrison helps him out.

Sadly, not my house. SunBriteTV

CNET reader Jason asks:

We have a covered porch that's screaming for a television. I'm not worried about the "elements" as much as I am about the extreme heat and cold. Here in North Texas, we can see summer temps as high as 110 degrees and winter temps in the teens.

I know there are "weatherproof" televisions out there, but they are expensive. Is that my only route, or are there certain TVs that do better in the heat or cold of outside?

Good question.

Outdoor televisions, from companies like SunBriteTV, are definitely expensive, often many times more expensive than a comparable-sized "indoor" TV ($1,495 for a 32-inch, for example).

The biggest issue with getting a TV to survive outside is not keeping out the moisture (relatively easy) or even protecting the delicate bits from the sun's rays (same). The trick is getting the heat out.

All TVs are designed to work within a certain temperature range. Not coincidentally, this is about the same range you work best at as well. All generate heat, and thanks to years of development, most don't need big fans to run well at room temperature.

Start pushing the edges of that temperature range, though, and bad things start to happen. In the cold, once the air warms up (like when night turns to day), water can condense and creating shockingly bad problems. The cold can also affect how the liquid crystal itself operates. In the heat, the lifespan of internal components drops precipitously.

So the trick with an outdoor TV is to seal it up against the elements, but at the same time allow the heat generated to escape. Usually this means extensive heatsinks, fans and a bespoke cabinet design. Many models have built-in heaters to maintain a specific operating temperature and other features to help them survive in the wilds of your back yard.

So it's less the "elements" you have to worry about than the temperatures.

But let's say you don't want to spend $4,300 on a 46-inch TV.

(Before I proceed, let me be very clear and say that using an indoor TV outside is a fantastic way to void your warranty and shorten the life of your TV. It will break. Don't say I didn't warn you, and don't blame me -- or the lovely people who pay me -- when your TV craps out).

Certain TVs are rated for a wider operating temperature than others. For example, I found multiple Panasonic models rated up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35C) and multiple Samsung and LG models rated up to 104F (40C). However, I still wouldn't leave them outside. All are clear in their inability to handle condensation. Condensation will happen if you cover the TV or not.

You can find this temperature info either on the specs page on their Web sites, or by downloading the manual (it's listed at the end).

My advice? Buy an outdoor TV; they're built to do what you're looking to do. They're expensive for a reason. If you don't want to heed that advice, get a TV that can withstand some heat, and put it on a dolly. Not remotely sexy, and it will require some extension cords, but where there's a will, there's a way. Get an LCD , as they're brighter and generally do better in well-lit areas. Get something cheap, too, as it will probably break.

Take this TV outside only when you need it, and leave it inside when you don't. Keep it out of the sun and maybe it will last longer than a season.


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like HDMI cables , LED LCD vs. plasma , Active vs Passive 3D , and more. Still have a question? Send him an e-mail! He won't tell you what TV to buy, but he might use your letter in a future article. You can also send him a message on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff or Google+.

About the author

Geoffrey Morrison is a freelance writer/photographer for CNET, Forbes, and TheWirecutter. He also writes for Sound&Vision magazine, HDGuru.com, and several others. He was Editor in Chief of Home Entertainment magazine and before that, Technical Editor of Home Theater magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling first novel, Undersea, is available in paperback and as an ebook on Amazon, B&N, and elsewhere.

 

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